A new exhibit has opened in the Photographic Archives this month: HomeLands, by Robb Hill. The photographs are documents from a long-term project examining how a person’s identity is informed by the land on which they live and what happens when the connection is severed by alterations to that land.
Hill grew up just outside the town of Utica, Indiana. This area is now changing dramatically because of the I-265 extension but Hill’s project began before the construction. “HomeLands started as a documentary project, to record the land where I grew up before big machines erased it. I have been returning to Indiana several times a year for the last ten years to hike the trails and fields I played in as a kid. With each footstep I looked for signs of the world I once knew so well.”
The panoramic, black and white, landscape photographs of HomeLands are a meditation on the idea of home. Hill posits that by shaping the land people create their sense of self and asks, “When the bond between land and people is broken what happens to identity?” The connections Hill photographs range from natural changes and decay to man-made alterations of the landscape he remembers. “I believe land makes people who they are. The relationship you have with the land you’re on sets the cornerstone of your being.”
More than simply nostalgia for Hill, HomeLands connects with viewers through rich images and icons, current and disappearing, of our region’s past and present.
HomeLands will be on display in the Photographic Archives Gallery, in Ekstrom Library, from March 12 through May 22. The gallery is open from 8am – 5pm, Monday – Friday.
My typical day as director of Archives and Special Collections (ASC) is interesting and varied: a discussion with a potential donor, a meeting to plan an exhibit, creating catalog entries to facilitate discovery of our collections… Last Friday was interesting in an entirely different way.
ASC has a long-standing partnership with Ken Clay and Merv Aubespin (also known as Legacies Unlimited), who, with Blaine Hudson, authored Two Centuries of Black Louisville. Many of the historical photographs in this book came from the University of Louisville Photographic Archives, and we mounted an exhibit when the book came off the press in 2011. We’ve recreated this exhibit as part of the “Celebrating the Legacy of Black Louisville” events at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage for the last two years.
We were told a couple of weeks ago that the Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall would be visiting the Center, and that our exhibit would be a featured attraction. It was a huge honor, and required that we (and when I say we, I really mean Marcy Werner) had to reprint all of the images so they could be framed and reinstalled.
It also meant that we were invited to be at the exhibit when the royal couple came through. I am not normally all that interested in royalty – I was old enough to be very much aware of the Prince’s wedding to Diana, and I didn’t even try to watch it on television. But even I couldn’t pass up the chance to see what a royal visit is like. We were given some ground rules on the morning of the visit: don’t reach out to them, but you can shake their hand if they reach out to you; call them both “your Royal Highness”; and something about cell phones. I think we weren’t supposed to be taking pictures, but… everyone was taking pictures.
When I agreed to attend the event, I knew there were a large number (30-40) of other exhibitors, and I expected them to be promoting the Commonwealth’s industries and agriculture. Instead, the event focused on health, innovation, sustainability, and — in our case — history. There were students and teachers from local schools demonstrating projects and organizations that promote sustainable agriculture, as well as University of Louisville’s FirstBuild. There were choirs, bands, and the Louisville Orchestra. It was very impressive, and something that the University should be proud to have been a part of.
As it turned out, Camilla (but not Charles) toured the Two Centuries exhibit, guided by Ken Clay and Merv Aubespin. I was not permitted into the gallery when she was viewing the exhibit, so I can’t gauge her level of engagement, but she stayed longer than I expected. Our collections helped a member of Britain’s royalty understand something about Louisville’s history – this is a departure from our usual daily activities, to say the least. While it was fun to be part of the hoopla, and I am proud we were asked to participate, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as the day-to-day work that we do: things like working with academics from all over who want to study the Stryker papers; neighbors who want to stroll down memory lane via old photos of department stores that are no more; and students who have to write a paper on a UofL building.
The latest exhibit in the Photographic Archives highlights new additions to the fine print collection.
The Photographic Archives works to collect, preserve, and make available for research photographs primarily documenting Louisville and the surrounding region. These locally related photographs uphold the visual history of our city and hold tremendous research value, and as a result they are our most heavily used photographs by visitors to the Archives. But in addition to the expansive collection of local images, the archive also holds a significant collection of fine print photographs.
The definition of a fine print photograph is fluid, though generally fine prints are distinguished from the local historical photographs in our collection in that they were created as art works by photographers who identified as artists, or photographs that have since been recognized as works of art regardless of their original context. Factors including the photographer’s creative vision and evident choices in framing, exposure and presentation often differentiate fine prints from representational images such as documentary and snapshot photographs. Fine print photographs are collected and displayed in museums and galleries around the world, with some being sold at auction for millions of dollars. Held within the Photographic Archives fine print collection are thousands of works — many by masters of the medium such as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Margaret Bourke-White, Ansel Adams, and Berenice Abbott.
In addition to being displayed in exhibitions, the fine print collection is regularly accessed for teaching purposes with prints being selected and presented to university Art History and Photography classes. The archive adds regularly to the fine print collection through donations and purchases from local galleries and national photography dealers. When choosing prints to add to the collection, we often consider opportunities for teaching by seeking out prints that will help us represent the entire history of photography and its major movements. We also look to collect a wide range of photographic processes as well works by noteworthy photographers.
The exhibit “New Fine Prints: Recent Additions to the Collection” is on display now in the Photographic Archives gallery on the Lower Level of Ekstrom Library until March 6, 2015.
The University of Louisville Libraries’ Digital Collections has a colorful new addition: the Martin F. Schmidt Photos of Louisville, ca. 1956-1966. These 573 color snapshots document buildings in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1950s and 1960s, before urban renewal and federal highway construction made major changes to the architectural landscape.
The photographer, Martin F. Schmidt (1918-2010), worked in his family’s Coca-Cola bottling business in Louisville before pursuing a degree in library science and applying his interest in local history to positions in the Louisville Free Public Library’s Kentucky Division and the Filson Club (now Filson Historical Society). He also published Kentucky Illustrated: The First Hundred Years (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992), a selection of prints he collected documenting Kentucky’s first century. Schmidt was also a major supporter of the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort, where a library is named in his honor.
The albums he donated to the University of Louisville Photographic Archives (now part of Archives & Special Collections) include churches, schools, offices, and industrial buildings from the Phoenix Hill neighborhood to Portland and from the Central Business District out to the Russell and California neighborhoods. The saturated color images show late nineteenth century architecture with neon signage, painted advertisements (similar to those documented in our Ghost Signs of Louisville digital collection), mid-20th century automobiles, and pedestrians. Many of the buildings depicted have since been razed.
For almost 25 years the University of Louisville Photographic Archives has chosen one graduating high school student from the Greater Louisville area to receive the Stern J. Bramson Award for Photographic Excellence. This year we had entries from 12 talented photographers, the most we have seen in a long time. The caliber of work was high and the decision was difficult. After much debate we got ourselves together and chose the winner of the $1000 prize. Unfortunately, we cannot let you know who it is until April 4th, when the participants will be notified themselves.
If you are interested in finding out who is the winning photographer, check the University of Louisville Photographic Archives Facebook page on April 4th. We’ll be announcing the photographer’s name sometime in the afternoon. In the meantime, here is a small selection from just half of the portfolios we received:
You can learn about Stern Bramson here and view his work by visiting the Photographic Archives at Ekstrom Library.
We have been through a long winter, and whether you are willing to believe that it is finally over or not, you have to concede that weather plays a large role in our lives. It affects our economic lives, our educational system, and even our emotional experiences. Since one of Archives and Special Collections’ central goals is to document the history and life of the Louisville area, it isn’t surprising that we hold a variety of weather-related materials.
One of our biggest weather-related collections is the National Weather Service, Louisville Station records.
These logbooks of daily observations chronicle Louisville’s weather (and the goings-on in the Weather Service office) from its earliest days in 1871 through 1983. They provide interesting, if sometimes minute, details that connect with our lives (“what was the weather like on my birthday in 1883?”), but they also tell a broader story about how we have engaged with our environment. For several years, Louisville’s observers were asked to report whether they could see the aurora borealis. However unlikely it seems that they would ever be able to give a positive report, these observations were intended to provide data to aid in our understanding of this phenomenon. There are also frequent reports of “fog” that limited visibility downtown in the 19th century – what we would probably call “smog.”
The logbooks and other collections also tell the stories of more dramatic weather events, including tornadoes and floods. For example, on March 27, 1890, a particularly deadly tornado – part of a larger outbreak in the region — swept through Louisville, causing millions of dollars in damages and killing 76 people. While this was noted in the Weather Service’s logbooks, like many catastrophic events, it was also of interest to people outside the region. This being the case, stereographs were produced showing the damage in 3-D (this was state-of-the-art in the late 19th century).
The “whirling tiger of the air” was also documented by other photographers. The much more recent – and similarly catastrophic – tornado outbreak of 1974 is not as well documented outside of the Weather Service logbooks, although we do have photographs and newspaper accounts.
In addition to tornadoes, life on the banks of the Ohio brings with it the constant threat of flooding, so it is not surprising that various floods are well-documented in ASC’s holdings. While the scope of the 1937 flood puts it in a different category, our collections reveal that floods were a recurring theme.
A search for “floods” in our Digital Collections pulls up nearly 1000 items, including..
…a postcard from a 1907 flood…
…Caufield and Shook photographs from 1924…
…Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) photographs from 1933…
…and images from the 2009 flash flood.
Given the devastation it caused, it is not surprising that the flood of 1937 is particularly well documented. Newspaper articles, photographs, postcards and maps were produced in the wake of the destruction. Some of this material – including maps of the floodwaters – is available in our Digital Collections. In addition, we have recently accessioned a series of 13 oral history interviews with flood survivors that were recorded in the early 1990s. These interviews tell the stories of people who ranged in age from ten to thirty-nine at the time of flood. Some of them had to flee the rising waters, moving in with family or friends, while others were able to stay and assist in the recovery efforts – or at least welcome friends and family into their homes. They all tell a personal story of life during the flood of 1937.
There is an old adage, “everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it.” While we can’t help you do anything to change the weather, we can help you put it in historical context.
While doing an inventory of the Photographic Archives storage area, we came across a surprising collection of glass stereo slides with a small box viewer depicting vivid scenes from World War I. I am well acquainted with paper card stereographs and often present them to student groups visiting the archive, asking if they ever imagined that 3-D technology was around over 150 years ago. But I had never before seen glass stereo photographs. The clarity in these three-dimensional images on glass is far beyond that of common paper-mounted card stereographs, so why do they seem so rare?
Stereography, early three-dimensional photography, was immensely popular in the latter half of the nineteenth century having been introduced in the 1850s and lasting into the 1930s. Stereograph photos, also known as stereoviews, stereograms, and stereopticons, were created with special cameras that had two lenses placed approximately two inches apart (the general distance between human eyes). These stereo cameras shot two nearly identical images on one negative that when printed and viewed through a stereoscope appear three dimensional.
Stereography was a common form of entertainment and news in the nineteenth century, with handheld viewers and stereograph sets found in most family parlors much like radios and televisions were in the twentieth century. Sets of stereographs showing far-away places in Europe, Asia and Africa were mass produced, as were sets depicting events like the Civil War and natural disasters such as the Louisville Tornado of 1890 and San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Being so affordable and accessible, stereography made foreign views and newsworthy imagery accessible to people of all classes.
The collection of glass stereoviews that we found in the archives consists of the wood box stereo viewer, approximately 100 glass slides each hand-labeled in French, and came with no information other than the name of the donor, Jon Kugelman, who gifted the items to the Photographic Archives in 1964. With some quick web research I have already run across a number of the same images that are in our collection. The photographs were likely shot by French photographer and stereographic inventor Jules Richard, and probably mass-produced and sold in the States by Brentano’s, a Parisian bookstore. It seems that glass stereographs were more popular in Europe than in the United States, which is why they are a bit rarer than paper mounted stereoviews.
The images in this collection show the realities of the Great War, including soldiers amid trenches, battlefield corpses, and bombed-out buildings. With the added feature of spatial relation, as well as the enhanced detail and light of the images on glass, these photographs vividly translate the destruction and horrors of war like I have never seen before.
Though best viewed through a stereoscope viewer, some animated gifs of stereographs can be found online and help convey the three-dimensionality of the photographs, like this image from a collection very similar to the Kugelman Collection in our archive.